Just as 2013's CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3D ignored the Michael Bay-produced remake and its prequel, LEATHERFACE attempts to align itself with the original canon. By recreating the original house and featuring the original characters, the film takes place 10-years before the events of Hooper's 1974 film and considers itself to be the official prequel. The prologue takes us back 20 years with a brief depiction of the family being torn apart by authorities. The youngest son, Jed, is institutionalised and committed amongst a ward of violent and murderous lunatics. A decade passes and Jed's mother instigates a riot at the asylum. Jed, along with three other patients and a captive nurse, escapes and embarks on a killing spree across Texas. Jed – who would later become Leatherface – is a heavy-set, mild-mannered and sensitive teenager whose psychological evolution offers the audience a reason why he became one of horror's most infamous boogeymen.
Of all of the instalments (this is the 8th) LEATHERFACE comes closest to expanding on the narrative of the first two films, and while there are fleeting moments of nostalgia peppered throughout the story, there is an overwhelming sense of misunderstanding. Those fundamental components of Hooper's films are missing, such as the underlining humour, the power of suggestion and the twisted social commentaries. They've been replaced with a gratuitous quota of gore and an invidious backstory, which assemble into an far-fetched exaggeration of Hooper's characters.
Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Livid, Among the Living) have fashioned a handsome and polished film – without question – but they have created an atmosphere that is at odds with Hoopers films. The bright dusty environment of the original film is ignored in favour of a dark and dampened look, and were this not claiming to be a legitimate exploration of the franchise, it would qualify as a handsome film. The gore is fabulous, the story is twisted, and the violence is relentless... and it would work in any other circumstance.
I found LEATHERFACE to be an arduous watch. New instalments of a popular horror franchise should inspire excitement, but this is a series that continuously underwhelms with the ignorance of over-zealous filmmakers. Hooper made his masterpiece for $300,000 using an organic production design and presented a realistic depiction of horrific circumstances. His film two directed-instalments are far removed from what followed, and only when future filmmakers understand where the horror laid, and what constituted terror, are we ever likely to see another respectable Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie again.
This is exemplified in the story arc of Jack (Jake Abel), a character who, in my opinion, should’ve been ALMOST FRIENDS’ protagonist. When he is first introduced, Jack’s motivations aren’t so much unclear as they are non-existent; Goldberger quickly emphasises his general passivity to recall the stereotypical apathy of aimless young people, newly liberated from the rigid structure of high school. Indeed, early in the film Jack is reluctant to accept a job offer despite not even being required to interview for the position, which is perhaps the most archetypal ‘slacker’ beat a character could take.
I’d initially assumed that this offer was simply a sycophantic ploy from Charlie (Freddie Highmore), the film’s true lead, in an attempt to please his love interest, Jack’s cousin Amber (Odeya Rush). However, Goldberger’s script pleasantly surprised me by continuing to dedicate time to Jack’s development; for instance, a running gag involving an arcade claw machine culminates effectively as a metaphor for expectations failing to match reality. Subsequently, the character begins to make mature decisions that utilise groundwork subtly laid earlier in the film, from the unexpected blossoming of a new relationship, to a surprise promotion at his new workplace. The next few years of Jack’s life may still be transformative and confusing, but by the film’s conclusion he’s demonstrably sorted things out for now.
Nevertheless, ALMOST FRIENDS struggles to decide what to do with Charlie, which leads to many of his scenes dragging on. From early in the film I felt as though I wasn’t being given enough context to understand the character, particularly his supposed love of cooking. The script develops and never fully breaks the habit of telling rather than showing Charlie’s passion, and although being a professional chef is his ostensible primary ambition, the conclusion of this plot feels contrived. A scene late in the film provided the emotional heft and backstory I’d wanted from the character, and Highmore skilfully sells the revelation, but the story threads are all too far gone for the moment to have the intended impact. By contrast, greater emphasis is given to the love triangle forming between Charlie, Amber, and her boyfriend Brad (Taylor John Smith), although the exact nature of the two leads’ dynamic isn’t quite as fully realised as I would’ve liked. Given the film’s title, and consideration for the decisions faced by people their age, it’s plausible that Goldberger deliberately resisted classifying the pair’s relationship as platonic or romantic as a commentary on indecisive modern dating trends. Yet simultaneously, the synopsis and trailer arguably imply that ALMOST FRIENDS is intended to be viewed as a romantic comedy, causing the film to suffer from a mild identity crisis. Focusing on the love triangle also greatly reduces the amount of development afforded to Amber, which is unfortunate since she faces the single most important decision of the film.
Although ALMOST FRIENDS delivers poignant reminders of the role of choice in our own maturity, their impact is diminished by the film’s own narrative indecisiveness. In my opinion, a greater focus on its grounded, relatable themes would have led to a more rewarding experience.
Mid-journey, however, and probably not surprisingly, the crew get more than they bargained for when the mermaid begins to display a knack for manipulation and reveals a much, much darker side.
Pulling much of the same stunt that Gregory Widen did in ‘95 with the first installment of the surprisingly resilient Angels-at-War series, The Prophecy, Gutierrez takes the elegant and romantic idea of the beautiful siren-like mermaid and turns the mythos on its water-logged head, producing a nightmare from a sugar-coated dream.
Produced as one of a five film series by the late greats Winston and Samuel Arkoff, SHE-CREATURE’s budget occasionally gets the better of it (are ALL mermaids tails THAT rubbery looking?) but a great deal of the film's success, and why it’s arguably the best of the series, is in large part thanks to Thomas Callaway’s seaweed-green-hued cinematography and Jerry Fleming’s rich (for TV, at least) production design. It’s a claustrophobic, dark ride wherein, when tensions begin to rise and things begin to skew, we feel there is no escape.
Englishman Sewell is obviously having a ball playing the skivvy Irish con-man and it’s the kind of part the underrated Gugino can do in her sleep, it even has a surprising cameo from Gil Bellows as a crew member.
Strangely haunting and surprisingly unsettling in parts, it’s a worthy diversion if there’s nothing on the box. Go in expecting SPLASH and you’ll be disappointed but it has its merits that justify its 85min running time.
Fashioned to look like one continuous 90-minute single-take it clearly draws its influences from CHILDREN OF MEN and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and is the kind of effort that DePalma would be proud of. Long takes and drifting cameras with (albeit, sometimes very obvious) hidden cuts to affect a 90-minute rush for survival. Rooftop snipers, looters, gun-battles, misinformation and explosions, BUSHWICK is a suburb imploding. And it’s all very exciting - no doubt - but ultimately it’s a missed opportunity.
There’s nothing wrong with the film's high-concept plotting; what would happen if America dissolved into another civil war? The problems arise when it doesn’t tap into any discernible social commentary. Brooklyn is a borough that has had a long history of social and political flux and a film that centres itself around an invading force seems ripe for allegory and analogy but that doesn’t seem to be of concern for co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott. This is a shame given that one of the films writers is NYC-native Nick Damici who also wrote Jim Mickle’s debut feature, MULBERRY ST, a crafty, low-budget horror that was made all the more impressive and richer by it’s loaded, and concise, social commentary.
Bautista, here serving as producer too, is fine in a role that doesn’t require him to show much emotion, just to puff and pant a lot. BUSHWICK is the ideal vehicle to help his star rise from side-player (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) to muscle-bound leading man. He’s early in his career and has time to develop the charisma that made Schwarzenegger and The Rock such formidable forces in the arena.
Snow, on the other hand, has a little more to do as Lucy, the every day Brooklynite forced to turn into a killer for survival, she’s the moral compass for the insanity that is unfolding around them.
It’s not a complete misfire, though, just a narrow miss. Given that it is the second feature by Murnion and Milott it can be considered a solid actioneer that works with its budget by making the most of limitations rather than fighting them. Let’s see what they do next.
When their quarrel moves to the snow-covered forrest, Rambo becomes Jaws on legs and carves through the tree-line and local law-enforcement like a hot knife through winter snow, dispatching his pursuers in a scarily efficient fashion using only his wits and his, now-infamous, bowie knife.
An obvious product of Regan-era politics (Vietnam untriumphant, one-man army, nary a woman in sight) it nonetheless has a clear message to deliver; Society is at fault and we let down those that returned from ‘Nam.
Less cartoonish than it’s sequels (the death count here is only 1... Part 2 has 75 deaths, Part 3 has 115, Part 4 has, no bullshit, 254) it relies on cinematographer Andrew Lazlo’s (The Warriors, Streets Of Fire, Poltergeist 2 and Southern Comfort) earthy design of desaturated browns and greens to evoke the stark cold and bleakness of winter in the mountains and help stack the odds against Rambo as he lunges from one hellish environment to the next.
Pulling dual duties as co-writer and star, Stallone (hot off Rocky 3 and in terrific shape) has the smarts to keep his dialogue to the absolute minimum, instead using a quite mumble and doe-eyed look to express the innocence Rambo needs to align us with his just fight. The only time he really lets loose is the surprisingly emotional finale when Rambo finally cracks and pulls the heart-strings with his monologue (‘My friend! He’s all over me!’).
As the corrupt lawman, Brian Dennehy is in ever reliable form, a perfect counterpoint to Rambo; a portly, loquacious and morally corrupt antagonist who, nevertheless, has a job to do, one that he believes is right.
There’s even a young David Caruso who appears as the conscientiously objective deputy, here relying on actual acting rather than the sunglasses-acting he become accustomed to over 9yrs of CSI: Miami.
Clear, concise and told with a point of view, modern action vehicles could do a lot worse than strip it all back to a FIRST BLOOD aesthetic.